Actually the free downloads of NOAA charts covers only the USA coastal waters and island possessions like Puerto Rico
and USVI. Offshore
you will need other charts from other sources.
- - Guide books
are your best bet for everywhere you want to go and need information about local harbor or gunkholes. Try to get as many as you can and the second hand ones are a lot less expensive than new ones. New cruising guides
have more up to date information about services on shore, marinas
, repair places, etc. But normally the "sketch charts" are the same ones used every since the cruising guide was first published. Obviously, new ones are the best but if your budget
is limited then previous editions (older versions) are better than nothing.
- - For the Bahamas you really want the Explorer Charts - same thing - as new an edition as you can afford. You can simply ask other cruisers you meet or listen to the various cruiser "nets" to get local information
on businesses, etc.
- - For the Turks and Caicos
, get the Wavey Line Charts - they are the only charts that actually depict what is actually on the T&C banks and the routes.
- - For the Dominican Republic
, get the Wavey Line Charts as they have the only reasonably up to date surveys of the major cruiser harbors/bays.
- - For Puerto Rico
and the USVI - download the NOAA free charts for your lapbook.
- - For further "down island" try to get the old CYC Caribbean
charts which are the best of the paper versions. I would recommend the Chris Doyle Guide books
- Leeward Islands
and Windward Islands
as the minimal ones to get for this region.
- - A lot of "returning north" cruisers you will meet along the way will have cruising guides
and charts that they will either give you or you can get at very economical prices.
- - Just make sure there is somebody up on the bow whenever you make landfall to spot good and bad things ahead. Also when crossing the banks have a good "lookout" stationed to spot hazards and shifting sand banks. When in doubt launch the dinghy
and have someone go out ahead and "check it out" - weather
and wave permitting. Don't hesitate to call on the VHF
cruiser channels (usually 68) and ask for advice or help if things do not look right.